Petunia is alone at home when Severus comes, and when she sees him as she opens the door, she’s ready to send him away again.
“Lily’s not home.”
His lips tighten into a thin line, and he slumps even more into that ridiculous jacket of his that’s big enough to be his father’s.
He turns to leave, and that’s when she sees it, shimmering though the strands of unwashed hair veiling his face. It’s a bruise – he’s got a black eye, she realises, and suddenly, she has to think of an incident a few weeks ago.
She’d been spying on him and Lily, hidden behind bushes on the playground, when his mother had come. Apparently, he hadn’t been supposed to go out – she’d yelled at him, something about spanking and a belt, and she’d hit him hard in the face before dragging him away. Petunia had been shocked, and even more that later, Lily had never mentioned it, neither to her nor their parents.
Now there’s the black eye, and for whatever reason, she feels that she can’t let him go like that.
“Wait.” She didn’t actually think he would, but he turns back, and she feels pressed to say something. “Come in, I’ve got a salve for your eye.”
He hesitates, staring at her with distrust, and just when she thinks he’ll leave instead, he nods.
Why she offered it, or why he accepted, Petunia has no idea, but she can’t back out again. She leads him to the bathroom and tells him to sit on the toilet lid as she rummages in the cupboard for the salve her mother uses on bruises and scraped knees.
He’s looking down at the white floor tiles when she approaches, and he doesn’t raise his head when she kneels next to him. His hair is disgusting, it feels as greasy as it looks when she brushes it out of his face and tucks it behind his ear – doesn’t he ever bathe and wash it? If she were his mother… But what is she thinking; she’s only twelve, three years older than him.
Nevertheless, there’s an oddly warm feeling in her stomach when she starts applying the salve to the cracked, tender skin. Severus flinches, but holds still, eyes closed, hands curled into fists in his lap.
“There, all done.”
“Thank you.” It comes as an unwilling mutter, but Petunia decides it’s enough.
She puts the jar away and washes her hands, Severus hovering behind her, never meeting her gaze. Now what?
“We could watch TV,” she suggests in the end.
It’s awkward, they sit on opposite ends of the couch and don’t talk, and he leaves after the programme is finished. If Petunia is honest, she’s glad to see him go.
But when she lies in bed that night, she can’t help but wonder about questions she’s never asked herself before. What kind of parents won’t – or can’t – provide their son with fitting clothes? What kind of parents won’t make sure he’s taking regular baths? And what kind of parents won’t just spank their son, but give him a black eye like this?
The more she thinks, the more she’s getting the feeling that she is luckier than she knows, and that there’s a good reason why Severus likes it so much to visit. And no matter how much she still dislikes him, she won’t forget the way he’d looked at her when he’d thanked her – just for a moment – and the way he’d tried, and failed, to blink away tears.